Earlier this week, State Senator Jason Carter outlined a series of reform proposals that would ultimately help restore HOPE scholarships, provide additional assistance for those seeking education degrees and restore funding for National Board Certified teachers.
The biggest of those proposals: restoring HOPE to its former glory.
Since 2011, the HOPE scholarship program has taken it on the nose. The incredible work Gov. Zell Miller spearheaded 20 years ago has been undone and fewer students are able to afford to attend universities, technical schools and community colleges.
Three years ago, Gov. Deal told us that Lottery revenues were plateauing and that drastic measures needed to be taken to save HOPE. Instead of saving HOPE, the changes made to the program put higher education out of reach for thousands of Georgians.
Now, the Georgia Lottery is sitting on over $250 million in surplus funds that could be used to fund HOPE, so it doesn’t seem like their situation is as dire as we were told in 2011.
This year, the Georgia Legislature is off to a good start on repairing the damage and bringing HOPE to thousands of Georgians.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan bill passed the House by an overwhelming 172-2 vote would restore significant funding to the HOPE grant program, allowing more technical and community college students to return to the classroom and get the valuable job training they need to compete in today’s job market. Combined with the efforts in the Senate to fully restore HOPE, Georgia could be once again become the model for state scholarship programs throughout the country.
Whether it’s a two-year degree from a technical or community college or a four-year degree from a college or university, higher education is crucial to our state’s future. Over two decades ago, Gov. Miller and the legislature at the time recognized the importance of higher education and created the HOPE scholarship.
HOPE quickly became successful, growing from 42,000 scholarship recipients in 1993, to nearly 150,000 by the end of the 1990s. HOPE peaked in 2010 with over 256,000 recipients, but by the 2013-2014 school year, the program shrunk to less than 160,000 recipients, the lowest numbers since 1999.
Georgia took a giant step backwards in recent years, but the current action by Senator Carter and others serve as a beacon of light for HOPE. We have a responsibility to students across Georgia to fix HOPE and stand up for higher education.